Children and Food Allergies

It is thought that nearly six percent of children may have food allergies to some degree. The extent to which a child’s life is disrupted by food allergies depends on the type of food allergy, as well as the severity. For instance, many times allergies to nuts can be life-threatening, whereas other allergies can cause illness but not necessarily death. When a child is allergic to something that is a common ingredient in foods (such as gluten or peanuts), avoiding foods containing these items can require a lot of vigilance on the part of the parent.

The biggest challenge for toddlers and young children with food allergies is trying to get other people to understand and respect the nature of their allergy. This is particularly true if the child’s food allergy is life-threatening. Whether a child is in daycare or stays at home with a parent all day, there will come a time when a parent will give the responsibility of feeding her child to someone else. Caretakers feeding children with gluten intolerances, for instance, must be made aware that bread is not the only food containing gluten and learn to read ingredient lists. Many daycare providers are becoming more educated on the different types of food allergies children have, but babysitters, mothers-in-law, and family friends may not. As soon as they are able to learn, teaching small children not to accept food from anyone who is not their caregiver is also a good idea. Parents of toddlers who have severe allergies often write on their children’s clothing that the child has allergies. In fact, there are many clever t-shirts sold that say just that.

The biggest challenge for older children with food allergies is getting them to understand why they cannot eat everything that so many other children can eat. Many children hate the thought of being conspicuous when they avoid certain foods while in a group of people. This can become increasingly difficult when your child is invited to birthday parties and other celebrations where food is served. Educating them about their food allergies is extremely important, as well as giving them other options that are just as appealing. Sending them to parties and celebrations with their own ‘safe’ treats (perhaps enough to share with his friends) is an excellent option. Teaching older children how to read food labels and how determine whether all of the ingredients listed are safe for them to eat is important. They also need to reach a point where they can instruct others regarding their allergies.

Many times children can outgrow food allergies, depending on the type of allergy. Most children allergic to milk, eggs, wheat and soy may not have these allergies into adulthood, while children allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and fish will likely have these allergies throughout their lifetime. It is important to have your child periodically tested to see whether they have outgrown allergies.

The most important thing a parent can do for their child with food allergies is to make them feel comfortable with their altered diet. This comes with time through education and being creative with safe alternative foods.